Great cornering performance thanks to large outside shoulder blocks. Hydroplaning resistance and enhanced braking thanks to high-angle grooves. Grippy and secure sport tire performance for everyday use.
Ideal street tires that may not be suitable for off-road conditions.
Innovative and exotic tread design. High-tensile steel belt and jointless nylon cap construction for high-velocity handling. Uses all season tread compound. Lightweight and quiet. Ideal choice for entry-level tuners.
Great for street use but not on rural roads.
Unidirectional tread design for improved wet-weather driving. Pushes away water for improved traction. High-performance double-V tread reduces hydroplaning. Quiet ride on these low-profile tires.
Only available in 15-18 inch sizes.
Sharp-looking and speed-rated high-performance tires. Ideal for extreme, plus fitments and show cars. Asymmetrical design improves braking. Great road feel and comfortable ride. Available in wide range of tire sizes.
Heavier than competing products.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Tires may not be the most glamorous part of a car, but they have more impact on driving feel than nearly any other component. They’re the only parts of your ride that actually touch the ground, after all, and their ability to grip the road, disperse moisture, and hold up to countless miles of daily driving are central to on-road dynamics. No, they’re not as flashy as bodykits or as punchy as turbochargers, but they’re one of the best vehicular investments you can make.
Low-profile tires are especially popular for serious drivers who love to modify their cars. Because larger wheels are a common upgrade, skinny tires are often necessary to make them fit in the wheel well. But these low-profile tires also give your ride a unique look and a sportier feel. These products generally have all the features of regular tires, only in smaller sizes.
As with regular tires, you can choose low-profile variants suited to particular driving styles. Sticky performance tires, long-lasting economy rubbers, all-season models, and even skinny snow tires are all out there at a variety of price points. How did we choose our favorites? Read on to learn more about low-profile tires.
New tires can greatly affect a vehicle’s handling, fuel consumption, weather performance, ride quality, speedometer accuracy, and noise level. Depending on the style you choose, however, some of these changes may be positive, while others can be negative.
Low-profile tires are generally sold in one of four categories, each with its own distinct tread pattern and performance goals.
All-season: These ubiquitous jack-of-all-trades tires are designed to deliver grip and confident handling regardless of season. All-seasons deliver comfortable city and highway experiences with relatively low noise. Tread patterns are often symmetrical in this category, with grooves and sipes to siphon away water.
Summer: These tires are optimal for performance vehicles in warmer climates and feature less prominent treads than other types. This gives them wider contact patches with the road for optimum grip, but there is still enough tread to inspire confidence in both wet and dry weather. The rubber compounds in performance tires are soft and grippy for better high-speed handling.
Winter: When the snow and ice hit, you’re going to want a set of winter tires. These tires come in studded and non-studded varieties—with deep treads and grooves to expel slush away from the tires’ contact patches. Winter tires also feature soft rubber compounds to stick to the road even as the temperature plummets. Keep in mind that the more complex tread patterns on winter tires will generate additional noise at higher speeds.
Touring: Geared toward comfort, touring tires are designed to bestow high levels of luxury to the occupants, meaning bumps and imperfections in the road are less noticeable. They still offer solid grip and performance though, and are usually sold as all-seasons. Speed ratings for touring tires are high as well.
The size of your tires is paramount — they have to fit on your wheels, after all. Tire dimensions are dictated by a figure that looks something like this: 285/35R22 106W. Let’s explain what each part means.
285: The width of the tire in millimeters at its broadest part.
35: The height of the tire’s sidewall, shown as a percentage of the tire’s width. Low-profile tires almost always have an aspect ratio below 50.
R: Indicates the product is a radial, which means the layers run radially across the tire.
22: The wheel diameter, measured in inches.
106: The load rating, load index, or the maximum weight each tire is rated to carry.
W: The speed rating of the tire in optimal conditions. The later in the alphabet the letter falls, the higher the speed rating. A tire marked ‘W’ is rated suitable for speeds up to 168 mph.
Tires come with their own life (mileage) expectancy. These mileage estimates are merely averages, because weather severity, driving habits, and other factors all play a part in how long a tire will last. The lifespan of a tire is dictated in large part by the rubber compound used to make it. Some are softer, allowing them to grip the road more tightly for performance-focused vehicles. The tradeoff is higher tread wear, as more of the tire is left on the road after each mile. High-mileage tires are harder, by contrast, and will last considerably longer. Keep an eye out for tires that include silica compounds, as they improve tread durability.
The majority of consumer-grade tires are filled with good old air, but some are piped full of pure nitrogen from the factory. Why? Pure nitrogen is less likely to seep through the tire rubber than oxygen, the benefit being more pressure stability in the long term. They’re also less susceptible to pressure change when the temperature fluctuates. Tires filled with nitrogen are denoted by green caps on the valve stems, but don’t worry: you can still pump in regular air if you get low.
Can’t remember the size and pressure rating of your tires? The information is found in three places: on each tire sidewall, on the driver’s side door frame, and in the owner’s manual. Keep in mind, however, that the owner’s manual will only list factory tire specs.
Tire shine: Trinova No-Wipe Spray
Get that deep-black look and clean gleam of showroom tires with a quality tire shine product. We like the Trinova no-wipe spray, which quickly clears away grit and dirt, and provides a long-lasting shine.
Tire pressure gauge: AstroAI Digital Pressure Gauge
Maintaining proper tire pressure is one key to safe and long-lasting tires, so you should always have a quality tire pressure gauge on hand. We love this simple and versatile AstroAI model that features a clear digital display and works for cars, trucks and bicycles.
Tire-patch kit: Boulder Tools Heavy-Duty Tire Repair Kit
When help is too far away for a tow, or if you simply want to repair a tire at home, it’s great to have a tire-patch kit handy. The Boulder Tools heavy-duty kit has all the tools and patches you need to fix up car, truck, and trailer tires.
The wheels that drive your car will wear more than the unpowered wheels, but side-to-side, the tires should wear relatively evenly. If you notice uneven tread across the axles, inspect your wheel bearings, suspension components, and tie rods for issues.
Generally speaking, low-profile tires are slightly more expensive than regular ones. While standard-profile rubber tire prices range from $50 to $90, low-profile versions will cost between $65 and $200. Keep in mind that run-flat tires and those filled with nitrogen may add another charge.
Inexpensive: At $65 or so, expect to find relatively basic radials that perform decently in most non-snowy weather conditions. You can find tires for coupes, sedans, and crossovers at this price point, however they may be louder and ride rougher than more expensive alternatives.
Mid-range: If you spend $100 per tire, you’re budgeting for higher performance capabilities in tandem with all-weather grit. These models will also be quieter, with more advanced tread compounds for better tread life. Larger tires for trucks and SUVs are also commonly found here.
Expensive: At the top of the range, you’re likely spending $150 or more on either a high-performance product or a smooth, low-noise luxury one. These have special rubber compounds, unique features, and painstakingly designed tread patterns to maximize handling and comfort.
Race cars often run on what are called “slicks.” These are super sticky tires with no tread at all. This design gives the tires the biggest contact patch with the ground for maximum grip. Race cars don’t drive on rough roads in harsh weather though, so this layout would spell disaster for commuter vehicles.
Buy a backup. Most cars come with a spare tire from the factory, but drivers often forget to order an extra when upgrading their wheels and tires. Consider purchasing an extra wheel and low-profile tire for an easy switch-out in case of a flat.
Watch your wear. Keep an eye on how your tires wear over time, paying close attention to your tread depth. The minimum legal tread depth is 1/16”, which you can measure by sticking a penny in the tread. If the top of Lincoln’s head is visible, you need a replacement.
Mind your psi. Proper tire pressure is vital to maintain safe performance. Low pressure can cause excessive tire wear, unsafe braking, poor gas mileage, and even blowouts, so keep a tire gauge in your vehicle at all times. You can refill your tires at nearly any gas station with a few quarters.
Never change just one tire at a time. When you’re swapping for some new rubber, replace either two (across the axles, side-to-side) or four at a time. Why? If you don’t, the tire on one side will have a slightly different circumference than the other, which can upset your vehicle’s handling, balance, and braking.
Store your tires properly. When storing winter or summer tires, make sure to thoroughly clean them before they go on vacation. If you don’t, dirt and chemicals from the road may corrode them. Also, stack tires flat on top of each other.
While researching this piece, two tires stood out as high-quality products that just missed our top five, and they’re on opposite ends of the pricing spectrum. The first is the Pirelli P Zero, an all-season performance tire that offers maximum grip in non-snowy conditions. Suitable for summer and wet driving, the P Zero includes noise-reduction technology as well as a rubber flange to protect your wheels.
At the other end of the range sits the Westlake SA 07 radial. It also features a wheel protector and all-season performance, but at a considerably lower price with lower performance ratings. If you’re after a solid, jack-of-all-trades tire for daily driving, this model is a great one to consider.
Q. What is the best way to clean my tires and make them look new?
A. Tires are constantly plastered with dirt, brake dust, oil, and other on-road contaminants. More than that, they commonly suffer from something called “blooming,” which occurs when anti-oxidizing compounds inside the tire are drawn to the surface and leave a brownish residue. To keep your low-profile tires looking fresh and clean, institute a regular cleaning routine.
Start by rinsing the tires. Then, wash them with dish soap diluted in water, one teaspoon for every gallon. Use a sponge to remove dirt and blooming from your tires, but remember to use something softer to clean the wheels. Rinse and dry the tires. Now, you’re ready to apply a dressing to restore the clean black look of new tires. Repeat this regimen every time you wash your vehicle to keep it looking like new from head to toe.
Q. How often should I rotate my tires?
A. Rotating your tires entails moving your rear tires to the front and vice versa to promote even tire wear. Remember, the wheels that drive the car (i.e. the front wheels on a front-wheel drive car) wear more quickly due to them transferring the engine’s power to the pavement and handling the bulk of the weight.
The frequency with which you rotate your tires depends on your driving style and local road conditions, but as always, there’s a helpful rule of thumb to follow: rotate your tires when you change your oil. If you drive fewer than 7,500 miles a year, though, it’s recommended to rotate your tires every six months or so. Always check your owner’s manual for reference, as some cars and trucks have different tire rotation schedules.
Q. What are run-flat tires?
A. Run-flat tires allow cars to continue driving after a puncture. They also remove the need for a spare, freeing up valuable space in the trunk. Sure, they’re generally only good for about 50 miles of driving at 55 mph or so, but the ability to get to a service station without pulling over to swap tires is worth its weight in gold.
There are two types of run-flats: self-supporting variants with strong sidewalls to support the weight of the car when the air leaks out, and self-sealing versions that have liquid inside to temporarily patch punctures. Not every type is suitable for every wheel, and they’re almost always more expensive than regular tires. Whether you purchase run-flats or not depends on how much you value convenience. A tire patch kit and air pump are considerably less expensive than the run-flat upcharge, but they require some elbow grease.
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